I'm not sure if I should write a review of the 2012 Subaru Impreza or just jump up and down at my desk yelling "I was right! I was right!" (I work from home, so I can do that sort of thing.) For the all-new 2012 Impreza, Subaru has made all of the changes I wanted to see made to the previous iteration, and a few I hadn't thought of. I'm not egotistical enough to think the changes had anything to do with me; the idea was to make the 2012 Subaru Impreza more appealing to mainstream buyers. Has it worked? Read on.
First Glance: Give the people what they want
The old (2008-2011) version of the Subaru Impreza was one of the cars I recommended most often. Its combination of standard all-wheel-drive and electronic stability control (ESC) made it one of the safest cars on the market: No matter the road conditions, it's always been exceptionally difficult to make an Impreza not go where you point it. That, plus it was practical, reasonably priced, and built with all the care and quality the Japanese can muster.
Today, things have changed. ESC is now standard in all cars, as mandated by the government, and today there are a handful of reasonably-priced cars with AWD such as Suzuki's Kizashi and SX4. This was the opportune time to up the Impreza's game, which is what they've done, but they've also pretty much held the line on pricing -- with only a small hike in the destination charge, the 2012 Impreza is just $25 higher than last year's car.
Is the new car worth an extra twenty-five bucks? Hell yeah.
Let's start with the most obvious change: The styling. The goal of the new Impreza was to broaden its mainstream appeal, so Subaru spent a lot of money and time on the design. The old Impreza was anonymous with a few awkward details, but the new car is handsome and stylish, resembling a baby Legacy. The 5-door hatchback wears the look well, too: It's a bit heavy at the back end (link goes to photo), with the bulging fender arches and bulky bumper getting perhaps more emphasis than they need, but the rear view is fairly clean and the profile that is more wagon than hatchback -- something that is sure to appeal to Subaru loyalists. And me.
In the Driver's Seat: Error correction
The old Impreza's interior had its issues, but the new car makes up for most of its sins. While the conventional dash layout isn't as showy as the Hyundai Elantra or as futuristic as the Honda Civic, the design is attractive and the simple controls promote distraction-free driving.
And the materials are significantly nicer than those on the old Impreza. The seat cloth is greatly improved, leather is now offered as an option, and the doors have soft padding in the places where your elbows go. The windows and side mirrors have been arranged to provide excellent all-round visibility. And under the dash is a new driver's knee airbag, which can avert some rather nasty leg injuries in a front-end collision.
Subaru paid extra attention to the back seat. Rear legroom has been increased, and while it's still nearly an inch shy of the Civic, it's comfortable enough for all but the tallest adults.
The sedan's trunk is only up to 12 cubic feet, which puts it close to the Civic (12.5 cubic feet) though still well shy of the Elantra (14.8). At least Subaru has boxed in the hinges, so your groceries won't get crushed when you slam the lid. If you're really serious about haulin' freight, you'll want to spend an extra $500 for the Impreza hatchback, which packs an SUV-like 22.5 cubic feet into its big, boxy cargo bay.
On the Road: Less is more
One of the hallmarks of the old Impreza was its engine, which was big (2.5 liters), powerful (170 horsepower), and not very fuel efficient (20 MPG city/26-27 highway). In my review, I said I'd be glad to have less power and better MPG.
Turns out my wish was Subaru's command: The new Impreza gets a 2.0 liter engine rated for 148 hp, with EPA fuel economy ratings of 25 MPG city/34 highway for the manual transmission and 27 MPG city/36 highway for the automatic. That puts the automatic Impreza impressively close to the Honda Civic (28/39) and Hyundai Elantra (29/40) -- don't forget those are front-wheel-drive cars; the Impreza drives all four wheels. And while those 39-40 MPG figures can be hard to achieve, I consistently saw low- to mid-30s during my day of driving the Impreza.
How is the power? Not bad, considering the Impreza weighs 200 to 300 lbs more than its front-wheel-drive rivals. Subaru has replaced the old car's old-tech 4-speed automatic with a continuously-variable transmission (CVT), which does a great job of squeezing power out of the smaller engine. 0-60 comes up in just under 10 seconds -- leisurely, to be sure -- but in real-world driving the automatic Impreza is eager off the line and passing power is acceptable, if not remarkable. Manual-tranny Imprezas get 5 speeds and a simpler all-wheel-drive system; long-time Subaru owners will be familiar with the long shift throws and loud gear whine, but those who are used to Hondas may not care for the numb clutch.
The Impreza's ride is comfortable and composed, if a bit noisy, and the handling is top notch -- the Impreza clings to the curves and seems to dare you to go faster. Most credit goes to the all-wheel-drive system, which greatly improves the Impreza's grip, though the fully independent rear suspension no doubt chips in a bit.